How autistic adults can contribute to science

The downside to having a brain disorder: Your brain works differently than the majority of humans'. That can make it difficult to participate in society. It puts people at risk for poverty, abuse, and exclusion.

The benefit to having a brain disorder: Your brain works differently than the majority of humans'. That means that you could have something really valuable to contribute to society, if society will make a space for you.

Back in September, Amy Harmon wrote a great long feature for the New York Times Magazine about efforts to integrate autistic adults into the larger community. Now, the journal Nature has published an interesting commentary about how autistic adults can aide the cause of science as researchers. A commentary is basically like an editorial. In this case, a scientist combined several published research papers and his own experience to make a point. The Canadian Globe and Mail had this to say:

Over the past seven years, eight people with autism have been associated with Laurent Mottron’s research group, including Michelle Dawson, who has become a close collaborator. Some of the team members have exceptional memories, while others have an ability to see patterns in data, or other skills, and contribute because of their autism, not despite it, Dr. Mottron said.

... Individuals with autism tend to fare poorly on a standard IQ tests that require verbal instructions, but can do much better on non-verbal tests that measure reasoning and creative problem-solving. They are faster on these kinds of tests than normal volunteers and use a different part of the brain to solve the problems.

Other studies suggest people with autism are also better in a wide range of perception tasks, such as spotting a pattern in a distracting environment or mentally manipulating complex three-dimensional shapes.

...He said that people with autism in the workplace may need mediators to help settle situations that trigger anxiety, giving occasions when Ms. Dawson’s computer crashes as an example.

The new Nature paper is locked, unfortunately. But you can read a 2006 research paper by Laurent Mottron on the same subject.

Via Annie Murphy Paul